Here’s a valuable tip for people planning to visit Australia’s east coast: you can now experience the world famous Aussie bush, while staying in luxurious surroundings only a couple of hours from Sydney.
It’s called the Secret Valley Escape – a secluded, romantic wilderness retreat in Australia’s famous Blue Mountains.
We spent four nights at the retreat – and here’s our review:
And as the name suggests, the emphasis at Secret Valley Escape is on isolation and a hands-on taste of stunning rural scenery
Secret Valley Escape is snuggled in the Kanimbla Valley, west of Sydney, amid soaring sandstone escarpments.
It provides high standard, secluded accommodation in handmade mudbrick cottages or a Aussie homestead with a sweeping verandarah – all set in 200 acres of mountain wilderness.
You can wander through the many walking tracks and witness the secret valley as it opens before your eyes beneath the escarpment, criss-crossed by Blackheath Creek.
In many years of undertaking ‘Age-Friendly Reviews’ across the globe, we had never experienced anything like this; isolation and luxury so close to an international airport, while still deep in the quiet splendor of untamed wilderness.
Q: Was the booking process simple and problem free?
A: Yes. We had heard a lot about Secret Valley Escape and its popularity, often among celebrity visitors to Australia.
Secret Valley Escape is active on social media, including Instagram – so we were able to see photographs of the facilities before we even made contact. This is a huge plus.
As well, Secret Valley Escape has an easily-read and detailed website.
The initial contact was made over the phone – and the formal booking was completed online.
The process was straight-forward, flexible and easy.
Q: Did Secret Valley Escape communicate after the booking?
A: Yes. We cannot speak highly enough about the communication. Secret Valley Escape was highly professional, thorough, friendly and extremely helpful – the equal of any we have encountered worldwide.
From the first conversation until our arrival, Secret Valley Escape kept in contact, provided ongoing information – and anticipating any questions.
We received detailed directions to the area and a map to show the location of our homestead within the valley itself.
On the day of our arrival, we also received three telephone calls, primarily to offer help with directions etc.
Such thoroughness and professionalism was reassuring and appreciated. As a result, we found our way without difficulty.
Q: Does Secret Valley Escape have street appeal?
A: As you approach the valley, it is everything you would expect from a wildnerness retreat.
A country road winds a short distance from the Great Western Highway at Cox’s River through dense bushland – passing occasional farms and tiny streams.
You cross a narrow wooden bridge and turn into the retreat, via a security boomgate.
This is deep in the Australian bush, 25 minutes from the nearest town and silent except for a never-ending chorus of wild birds. That’s street appeal in anyone’s language.
Q: How did check-in go?
A: Seamlessly. As outlined in the post-booking communication, our lodge awaited.
The on-site owners stopped by to check that everything was to our liking – and then we were left to ourselves.
You could immediately see why Secret Valley Escape is so popular with celebrities, honeymooners and corporate workshops.
As well as the cottages scattered through the bush, the nearest neighbours are the birds, the towering mountains and the bubbling creek.
Q: How was accessibility, particularly for senior travellers?
A: Secret Valley Escape is located amid dense, almost untouched Australian bush. That’s the charm of it: however a certain level of mobility is desirable to get the best out of a stay.
Obviously, it would be neither possible nor desirable to put safety fences and wheelchair paths along ancient bushland clifftops, but neither is it necessary to wander the bush trails of this wonderful retreat to enjoy its incredible appeal.
Even at the homestead and cabins, visitors are deep in the bosom of nature; able to watch the sun bouncing off ghost gums in the early morning and afternoon; hear the sounds of the bush echoing down the valley; and see the dark skies ablaze with stars.
The area around the cottages, homestead, workshop facilities and car parking areas are level, largely clear of obstacles and well lit at night.
There are a small number of steps to the cottages and the homestead is two-storey with an internal staircase.
However, once inside, the surrounding sun-decking and the rooms are readily accessible – including the ensuite bathrooms.
For example, hand-basins were high enough on the wall for a wheelchair to move close, should it need to.
Light switches and power-points were sensibly mid-height; door handles opened with little effort; there were clothes hangers at mid-height in the wardrobes; and outside stairs were illuminated by security lighting.
In both the homestead and cottages, the emphasis was on high-quality fittings and furnishings.
Q: Were the bedrooms big enough?
A: The homestead contains five bedrooms – all a decent size. Three of the bedrooms had King-sized beds (one of them a four-poster bed) while the other two were Queen-sized
All bedrooms had individual lights; bedside drawers; air-conditioning, overhead fans; en-suite bathrooms, suitcase stands, complimentary slippers and built-in wardrobes
The beds were fluffy and comfy, with high quality coverings. Some of the bedrooms opened onto the wide veranderah that surrounds the homestead, while one of the upstairs rooms had its own private balcony overlooking the sweeping bushland.
We checked out one of the spa cottages. It was cosy but spacious and had a four-poster Queen-sized bed.
Q: Did the homestead have adequate charging points?
A: The bedrooms easily catered for our electronic devices – always a key point for us.
There were plenty of charging points, including some on either side of the bed, ideal for using mobile phones as alarm clocks.
There were also plenty of powerpoints in other rooms, including the downstairs general bathroom, loungeroom and livingroom.
Q: Were the bathrooms to the expected standard?
A: Both the main bathroom and the walk-in en-suites in the homestread were modern and fitted with luxury toiletries.
There were adequate fluffy towels, hairdryers, robes and slippers.
The ensuite bathroom in the biggest bedroom also contained a luxurious full size standalone bath.
Although there were 10 people in our party, there was never any shortage of hot water.
Q: Were the general facilities in keeping with the star rating?
A: Secret Valley Escape has everthing you expect from a four-star facility. We’d heard a lot of good things about this retreat from fellow travellers and tourism authorities – and it certainly lived up to the reputation.
The location is a good start – amid stunning Australian bushland far from the madding crowd, yet within easy reach of Sydney and its international airport.
Our experience with farm-stay type facilities in Australia was that most seemed to have an emphasis on catering for young families – or required a lengthy trip to reach them.
Secret Valley Escape proved an exception.
The combination of seclusion and luxury, Aussie bush and a relatively short distance to Sydney is a winner for international tourists, celebrities looking for privacy, or couples after a romantic stay.
The retreat is also a photographer’s dream – and is a perfect base for exploring the world famous Blue Mountains in general.
The homestead, Illowra House, is spacious and fully self contained with quality furnishings and a high level of finish.
As well as the luxurious bedrooms, bathrooms, living areas and modern kitchen and laundry, there is a large log fire, air-conditioning and individually-controlled fans.
The homestead and each cottage also featured individual, private outdoor jacuzzis on the north facing timber deck.
Q: Were kitchen and laundry facilities adequate?
A: The homestead kitchen was fully self-contained, with modern appliances, including a large cooker with a double oven, refrigerator, dishwasher and microwave.
There was a jumbo-sized dining table; a general living area off the kitchen and a separate lounge room – all finished in quality furnishings.
An electric bar-b-que is situated on the homestead’s decking – and is ideal for cooking a convenient meal for small groups.
In the kitchen, there were complimentary fruit, detergent and a range of teas and coffee, crockery, cutlery and more-than-adequate bench and cupboard space.
The laundry included a washing machine, clothes dryer and a large amount of pantry and storage room.
During our four-day stay, the homestead was serviced and we were offered replacement toileteries, tea and coffee and detergent.
Q: Were there any problems with Secret Valley Escape?
A: Just the opposite. Secret Valley Escape was exactly as we expected – luxury, secluded accommodation within easy reach of other Blue Mountains attractions and the transport hubs of Sydney.
While the bushland setting means that a level of mobility is needed to experience all corners of the 200-acres, the operators have made concerted efforts to ensure Secret Valley Escape is as ‘Age-friendly’ as it can be (see below)
Our only suggestions involve the need for a DVD player and screen in the living areas, complimentary wifi (if possible) and perhaps a bigger bar-b-que to cater for large groups.
However, on the whole, we found Secret Valley Escape to be luxurious, modern, spotlessly clean, extremely comfortable, secure and a wonderful retreat from the pressures of today’s life.
And, the approachable, helpful and highly professional attitude of the managers made our stay all the more comfortable and memorable
We have no hesitation in recommending Secret Valley Escape. It is a true gem!
Based on this four-night experience, it is our opinion that the operators of Secret Valley Escape have made the retreat as accessible as is possible for a genuine wilderness getaway.
They have tackled it in a whole range of practical ways – from providing visitors with a map that shows the various bush walks and the topography around them; to the care taken to guide people into the valley; and the inclusive and intelligent accommodation layout.
On-going communication with customers; the Instagram photographs; and the easily-navigated website all indicate to us an obvious management policy of providing accurate information and informed assistance.
We hope to return to Secret Valley Escape to write a more detailed review of this outstanding retreat.
Location: Secret Valley Escape is situated in the Kanimbla Valley, in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, Australia.